April 13. 2024. 6:15

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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy has four key asks for EU leaders

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, having visited London and Paris, is expected to push EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday (9 February) for more weapons in the fight against Russia’s invasion and for a quick start to EU membership talks.

Zelenskyy’s rumoured visit to Brussels comes only a week after an EU-Ukraine summit held in Kyiv last Friday.

While Ukraine’s president is unlikely to leave with immediate pledges to satisfy his requests, his appearance in Brussels gives him the chance to lobby all 27 EU leaders at once for the first time since Russia’s invasion of the country nearly one year ago.

Besides an address to all, there is significant time earmarked for bilateral meetings with EU leaders, where Zelenskyy is set to meet as many of his counterparts as possible one-on-one, or in smaller groups.

In addition to addressing the EU summit, Zelenskyy is due to address the European Parliament.

In his invitation letter to EU leaders, European Council President Charles Michel, without confirming Zelenskyy’s attendance, wrote he would like to “discuss in particular Ukraine’s initiative for a just peace, based on full respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the potential use of Russia’s frozen and immobilised assets and accountability”.

After major Ukrainian gains on the ground in the second half of 2022, Russia has recovered momentum, sending tens of thousands of freshly mobilised troops to the front.

Kyiv says it expects Moscow to broaden that offensive with a big push around 24 February as the anniversary of the invasion approaches.

The trip, with legs in London and Paris, was only Zelenskyy’s second known time out of his country since the war began and followed a surprise visit to Washington in December.

In London, where he won a British pledge to train Ukrainian pilots on advanced NATO fighter jets from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, he stressed his plea for combat aircraft in a speech to British lawmakers when he referred to the planes as “wings for freedom”.

He then met French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris for talks over dinner, where both leaders vowed continued support for Ukraine.

“France and Germany have the potential to be game changers, and that’s how I see our talks today,” Zelenskyy said.

“The sooner we get heavy long-range weapons, and our pilots get modern planes (…), the quicker this Russian aggression will end.”

Four key asks in Brussels

First and foremost, the Ukrainian side is expected to press EU member states on general support to speed up the delivery of weapons before Russia’s likely spring offensive.

“We badly need as of now, as of yesterday, long-range artillery, all types of artillery ammunition,” a Ukrainian official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“On battle tanks, the decision has been taken by several member states, but we have no tanks for now – this needs to be speeded up,” the official said.

Having won promises of Western battle tanks in recent weeks, Ukrainian officials are now focused on trying to secure the supply of longer-range rockets and fighter jets.

Western governments have so far rebuffed requests for jets, arguing they are not what Ukraine needs for the moment and that it would take years to train Ukrainian pilots to fly them.

Eastern Europeans univocally support fighter jet deliveries to Kyiv, France, and the Netherlands are not completely averse to the idea, the UK is hesitant but likely to move, and Germany is against it.

“We are not a jet-less army, we have been flying Soviet-type jets, they are good but outdated,” the Ukrainian official said.

“The training on Patriot [anti-missile systems], which usually takes 10 months, took our soldiers 10 weeks – be sure it will be similar with any jets,” the official urged in comparison.

New sanctions against Russia are also likely to be discussed in Brussels.

Zelenskyy is likely to press EU leaders to include nuclear, more specifically Rosatom, over the Russian occupation of nuclear power plants like Zaporizhzhia, which was captured by Russian troops last March and has repeatedly come under fire, raising fears of a nuclear disaster.

EU member states are currently working on a 10th round of sanctions, which according to EU officials and diplomats, is meant to be ready around 24 February.

Ahead of the EU summit, Poland and the Baltic states said they will push their counterparts to accelerate work on the use of frozen assets to support Ukraine’s reconstruction, according to a joint letter seen by EURACTIV.

After last week, EU accession is likely to loom large as well, with Ukrainian officials pushing for opening membership talks by the end of this year.

Ukraine renews case for membership to visiting EU top officials

Ukraine’s leadership on Thursday (2 February) made an unequivocal plea for EU membership as the bloc’s top officials met their government counterparts in Kyiv in a first-of-its-kind gathering.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz seemed to nod to Ukrainian concerns in Paris on Wednesday when he said, “I am taking a clear message to Brussels: Ukraine belongs to the European family.”

However, it is also Germany who has made a point to say the EU could not enlarge without reform of the bloc to absorb new members.

While some EU member countries are keen to give Ukraine the morale boost that would come with membership talks, others are much more cautious and have pointed to the need of meeting a range of criteria spelt out by the European Commission before they can even start negotiations.

“Ukraine can’t be given some sort of special status over and above, say, the countries of the Western Balkans who are in the accession process and going through all the hoops,” an EU diplomat said.

“The Western Balkans can’t be told: ‘Well, in order to get into the EU, you need to be at war,” he added.

Ukrainian officials, however, call the argument “artificial”, pointing out that most Western Balkan leaders had welcomed the impetus Ukraine’s push for membership had given their region.

Another point of Zelenskyy’s Brussels agenda will be to ask for the EU leader’s support for his peace formula, a ten-point plan that Kyiv believes could create a new global security architecture.